One question people frequently ask Catholic priests and nuns is, “Father, how old were you when you began to nurture the idea of becoming a Catholic priest?” or “Sister, how did you get to know that God called you to become a Catholic nun?” Usually, when people ask this question, they mean, “Tell us your vocation story.”
I would like to share my vocation story for those who have not heard it. People ask me, “How old were you when you began to nurture the idea of becoming a Catholic Priest?” I always tell them, “I have no idea of any time I did not have that idea.” I began to nurture this idea even before I started elementary school. I was born into a very Catholic home. I loved joining my family at Mass. In addition to seeing the priests at Mass, our parish priests visited us at home from time to time. I noticed that whenever the priests came to our home, there was always a positive change in the atmosphere. Their presence brought some special joy to everyone. I have no recollection of them giving us food, money, or any material thing; all they needed to do was show up in their clerical wear, which would change everything for good. Sometimes, some family members quarreled before the priests came to the house. Nobody told the priests about the quarrel. They would have a general conversation and leave. After their visit, the quarreling parties would forget they quarreled, and life became joyful again.
Young as I was then, I noticed something special about the presence of priests. I wondered what was unique about their presence that brought so much relief, comfort, and joy. I then began to say, “I would like to become this kind of person who would have this kind of presence that only requires one to show up, and everybody would be happy.” At that point, I had no idea how many years I needed to study in the seminary to become a priest. I had no idea of the many other responsibilities of the priest. I did not know how much sacrifice I would make as a priest. All I knew of a priest was the one whose presence radiated joy. That was how my vocation story started; today, I am here.
My dearly beloved in Christ, today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. It is the solemnity of the revelation of the newborn King to the rest of the world. Remember, Jesus was born a Jew among the Jews. What we celebrate today is his manifestation, his revelation to the rest of the world, the non-Jewish world, represented by the magi. Many biblical and extra-biblical stories surround the magi regarding their origin, number, religion, occupation, etc. However, two aspects of the stories remain constant: they were non-Jews, and a star led them to the newborn King.
The magi were non-Jews; they had no access to the Jewish scripture; they had no access to the Jewish religion. However, they had access to the stars; they studied the stars, which gave them a clue to where Jesus was born.
Today, as Christians, we have a special vocation to be stars for the rest of the world. We have encountered the newborn King; our responsibility now is to lead the rest of the world to him. Remember, during his public ministry, Jesus would say, “You are the light of the world.” As Christians, we often wonder why many people do not come to Church, but the answer is in us. If we shine enough, people will trace our steps and follow us. What do people see in us outside the Church? The star was bright enough to lead the magi, who went beyond the star to the source of the light. How are we different from others as Christians? Are we humble in our wealth? Are we calm in our poverty? When everyone is gossiping in the office, lying in school, cheating in the market, and being reckless behind the wheel, do we make a positive difference in their midst? If we are like everyone, why would people be interested in where we go to worship?
Remember my opening story. No one ever spoke to me about becoming a priest. The lifestyle of my parish priests while I was growing up attracted me. As parents, if you are wondering why your children are not interested in your religion, check to be sure that your constant fight with your spouse is not the culprit. If as spouses, you lie to each other, your children will not see any value in the scripture you claim to study. Many children fear committing themselves to a stable and lifelong marital relationship through Christian marriage because parents have made the marriage institution very scary by their way of life. Today, Jesus needs another star to lead people to him. Many people may never pick up a copy of the Bible to read; they rely on our lives as Christians as their Bible. Yes, as a Christian, you are the star that Jesus relies on to lead people to him today. How bright is your light?